“Substrate” is another word for corn snake bedding — the material that you use to cover the floor of your pet’s enclosure.
Using the right substrate in your corn snake’s terrarium can help regulate humidity and promote good health. Using the wrong substrate can be unhygienic and can even kill your snake in severe cases.
Good corn snake substrates
Aspen shavings — Affordably-priced, moderately absorbent, and odor-resistant. This is the most popular substrate among corn snake keepers. Note: Aspen shavings do not retain humidity very well, and may not work for keepers in particularly dry climates.
Cypress mulch — More expensive than aspen shavings, but reasonably absorbent and odor-resistant. A good alternative to aspen shavings for those struggling to maintain humidity.
Lignocel — This is a fine, dust-free aspen substrate very popular with snake keepers in Europe. Possesses qualities similar to aspen shavings. I have not seen it available in the United States.
Coconut fiber — Absorbent, affordable, and maintains humidity well. Also relatively dust-free.
Hemp — Extremely absorbent, chemical-free, and low dust. An eco-friendly alternative to wood-based substrates.
Bioactive — Bioactive substrates are designed to mimic the animal’s natural environment by creating a micro-habitat that includes detritivore insects and live plants. The result is more or less a self-cleaning enclosure! More information can be found in the files in the Facebook group Reptile & Amphibian Bioactive Setups. Bioactive kits can be found at TheBioDude.com.
Okay corn snake substrates
Paper towels — Absorbent and disposable, which is convenient. However, corn snakes like to get under it and make a mess, and the towels must be replaced each time the snake urinates. A good substrate for hatchlings and small juveniles, but not adults.
Reptile carpet — Not very absorbent, but more eco-friendly than paper towels, as it can be washed with hot water and chlorhexidine in a washing machine and reused. A good substrate for hatchlings and small juveniles, but not adults.
Contact paper — Not absorbent at all, but wipes clean easily and comes in an array of attractive designs. A decent substrate for hatchlings and small juveniles, but not adults.
Bad corn snake substrates
Pine/cedar bark or shavings — The aromatic compounds in pine and cedar (what makes it smell good) can cause neurological damage in reptiles.
Sand/gravel —Not absorbent at all, which promotes bacterial and fungal growth. These substrates are also abrasive to a corn snake’s scales, and can cause injury if the snake attempts to burrow.
Bark/wood chips (of any kind) — These can cause impaction and even damage to internal organs if accidentally ingested.
PRO TIP: If you opt for a loose-type corn snake bedding, take care to layer it about 2-3” thick and replace every 1-2 months as needed.